Voice message causes stir


Jan. 24, 2009 at 12:01 a.m.
Updated Jan. 23, 2009 at 7:24 p.m.

GOLIAD - The message on Goliad County Commissioner Ted Long's home phone answering machine Friday was:

"If you are calling to hear the previous recording, sorry you missed it. If you are calling to actually leave us a message, wait for the beep."

The previous recording sparked some controversy in Goliad. In the recording, Long, who represents Precinct 4, asked callers to leave a message if they spoke English, but to refrain from doing so if they spoke Swahili. The recording requested Swahili speakers call back when they spoke English.

Long said the recording was just a joke and not meant to offend anyone.

Others disapproved of the message and suggested it might have racist undertones.

The original message, which Long recorded in the summer, referred to the Spanish language rather than Swahili. Long changed it earlier this week after he heard people were dialing his home phone just to hear the message.

He chose Swahili because he didn't think anyone in Goliad spoke the language, he said. Swahili, or Kiswahili, is a common language in East Africa.

"There was never any offense meant to anyone," he said. "There was never any racist overtone."

Voice recordings in the United States that ask him to "press one for English" offend him, he said.

"I believe English is the language of the United States of America," he said, adding of non-English speakers in the U.S. "We should not change to fit them. They should change to fit us."

In the past, people praised his voice message instead of criticizing, Long said. This included Goliad resident, Debbie Foster, who first heard the message in the summer.

"I think it's an excellent message," she said. "If you can't speak English, you shouldn't be here."

Others viewed Long's message differently. Former Goliad Sheriff Robert DeLaGarza said that he was "appalled" that Long would have the voice message, especially given the large Hispanic population in Goliad, some of whom speak Spanish.

"A lot of us have different backgrounds," he said. "I think a public official is there to serve everyone regardless of their background."

DeLaGarza said that Long "may have meant no harm with the word Swahili." But he also thought the language change may have referred to President Barack Obama.

"I felt that he was directing some of this stuff toward the president," he said.

Obama was inaugurated on Tuesday. His father was Kenyan.

Long denied that the message was a jibe at the new president.

Two fellow members of the Goliad County Commissioners Court did not appreciate the message. Commissioner Julian Flores of Precinct 1 said the message should not have been on Long's answering machine, particularly as a county commissioner.

"I don't think it's right," Flores said.

Commissioner Jerry Rodriguez of Precinct 2 said he was unhappy with the voice message.

"It seemed to me he could use better words than he used," he said.

Rodriguez said he did not know Long well enough to make a judgement about whether the message was intended as racist, but he thought the tone of the message leaned toward racism.

"It's sad that in this day and age, we've come so far, but in little old Goliad, we seem 20 years behind," he said.

A fourth commissioner, Jim Kreneck of Precinct 3, said he didn't have a response because he didn't know much about the controversy.

However, he also asked, "Don't we have a right to freedom of speech?"

Goliad Sheriff Kirby Brumby said he would not tell Long that the message was right or wrong, but he would not have left a similar message on his own answering machine.

"That's just not my style," he said. "My message says, 'After the tone, leave a message.'"



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